BACKSEAT VIRTUE: Backseat Virtue
I try hard not to jump to female singer comparisons when reviewing something by a female singer ('cause I'm non-sexist like that), but I spent the first two listens of Cincy foursome Backseat Virtue's debut CD trying to "place the voice." When I finally figured out it was Belinda Carlisle (early Go Go's days), it actually enhanced the listening experience. Singer Chrissy Gardner is far from exactly like Carlisle (less Chipmunks-like and more aggressive in spots), but hearing that voice over BV's modernized, well-crafted Pop/Rock gives a sense of what the Go Go's might have sounded like had they formed in 2003 and not 1978. The songs on the band's self-titled full-length are driven by Jeff Conner, a fantastic Rock & Roll guitarist who moves effortlessly between the kind of harder-edged Pop/Rock of Dave Grohl ("Off Again") and dynamic, wiry, Bloc Party-meets-Pink Floyd riffage ("Epiphany"). Meanwhile, every time Conner hits a solo, it's memorable, a mix of Classic Rock mastery and modern imagination.
Many of the tracks have an almost Pop/Punk feel, but with more of a classic sensibility, not really resembling any of today's mostly flaccid practitioners. Still, all of the songs are remarkably accessible and radio-friendly, without being panderingly so. A track like "Think of Me" would be a stellar single; constructed around golden melodies, the song has Power Pop oomph, Pat Benatarian (there I go again!) sass and, while traditionally structured, it doesn't have that anticipatory "assembly line" vibe, where you can see where the song is going from a mile away. That's the joy of experiencing Backseat Virtue's debut while it "feels" like something (or maybe everything) you've heard before, it sounds surprisingly fresh amongst some of today's more sterile Pop/Rock. The lyrics largely deal with inner conflict and relationships, and they offer little in the way of real poetry (if you're looking for poetry in modern Pop music, you're looking in the wrong place), but they still possess an endearing empowerment energy.
CROATAN: There Can Be Only Two
Croatan have been putting out records since before W. came into office, and they'll probably still be putting out records in 10 more years. The locally based band released their fifth album, There Can Be Only Two, on Laguna Sunburn. Continuing with their fuzzy Punk/Metal fusion, Croatan's newest disc is far from groundbreaking, but it is very solid. With only a guitarist and drummer, Croatan's previous releases have never been very technical, however, the band's music is hard, fast and loud. Full of hostility and distortion, the Croatan assault is energetic, but not exactly face-melting. There Can Be Only Two lands somewhere between mediocre and good, featuring 13 tracks that come in just over thirty minutes. Other bands would have called this an EP, but not the mighty Croatan. The main problem with the record is that is gets old, quick. The tracks blend together into a big distorted mess. Bright spots like the comedic banjo solo that finishes the track "Scabs Get Stabbed" get overshadowed by the blase; nature of the album. Any track or two taken individually is fine; more then three consecutive tracks however are just too much. In the end, There Can Be Only Two is a nice addition to the Croatan catalogue, with solid musicianship and a high production quality. For longtime fans, the latest Croatan release will be warmly welcomed. If you aren't well-versed in the band's ways, though, it would be wise to start with another album. (Zachary Breedlove)
On their second release, Cincinnati band Johnnytwentythree have created something magical. The self-titled, hour-long disc is captivating. Following in the stylistic footsteps of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, J23's newest effort is a beautifully sculpted collision of both sonic and visual intensity. Blending raw, emotionally charged video with apocalyptic crescendos and haunting atmospheric noises, this multi-media sophomore album is stunning. Layers upon layers align themselves perfectly, with copious amounts of reverb and delay, making for a uniquely encapsulating listening experience. Songs like the epic 20-minute "Ghost Soldiers" exponentially build in speed and intensity to a seemingly cataclysmic climax. Invest an hour into this disc, and it's impossible to feel mentally the same afterwards. Pure passion drips from this album. Ominous poetry melds perfectly with lushly layered violin. The most remarkable thing is how original it is, blending different sounds and textures. In a musical climate marked by nauseating cookie-cutter repetition that is nauseating, J23 create a unique listening/viewing experience. While the album does borrow bits and pieces from other bands, this isn't a rock-by-number record. Unlike the majority of music being created, J23 sculpt the sonic landscape in a way where every listen yields a different emotion or rekindles an old passion. Three years in the making, J23's fusion of audio and visual art stands out as something that will eventually have the band's name appearing next to Godspeed, Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Ros as heavyweights of the Post Rock genre. (ZB)